One Million American Dreams
 
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Trailer

 

Synopsis

If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere…

But what happens if you don’t make it in New York? What happens if you fall so far short of success in the world’s most iconic city that you can’t even afford to be buried properly?

Less than 16 miles from central Manhattan lies Hart Island, a 101-acre cemetery and the final resting place of over 1 million New Yorkers. But this is no ordinary cemetery. This is the last stop on the journey of the city’s unclaimed dead.

Hart Island is strictly off limits to the public. It is run by the city’s Department of Correction, which employs inmates from nearby Rikers Island to carry out weekly interments: poor and forgotten prisoners burying poor and forgotten people for 50 cents an hour.

From the brief lives of babies who died in hospital, to the lost lives of parents who drifted into poverty and oblivion, ONE MILLION AMERICAN DREAMS follows four families trying to reconcile themselves to the tragic stories of their loved ones who ended up in a cheap pine box at the bottom of a Hart Island trench.

Binding their stories together is the fidelity of family love and the unquenchable courage of life that transcends the darkness of death.

ONE MILLION AMERICAN DREAMS lifts the lid on one of the world’s most iconic cities in a gripping portrait of brave families searching for hope amidst the harsh reality of the American dream.

 
 
 
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DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

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Brendan J. Byrne

 
 

I  first visited New York a 17-year-old schoolboy in 1983. I’ll never forget the bus trip from JFK airport to downtown Manhattan where I could have sworn that the guy on the seat opposite me with the black T-shirt and guitar case was none other than Bruce Springsteen himself and the black kids playing basketball in Queens looked like they’d walked straight out of a movie. By the time this solo traveller stepped into the parallel universe of 1980’s 42nd street, I was more excited than I can ever remember. Thus began my love affair with New York that continues to this day.

Since that heady first experience I have spent the last 35 years as a regular traveller across the Atlantic, and indeed, across America. I could even say that America has become something
of a second home, a place I find endlessly fascinating and immediately at ease in. When I learned of the story of Hart Island it connected with me immediately. It seemed to encapsulate something deep I have long felt about this great city and country, a country full of extremes and contradictions; a country so full of promise, but at times heartless and unforgiving.

42nd street has been cleaned up since 1983, and a lot of what made New York so characterful then has been swept up in the gentrification of the property boom and the NYPD’s zero tolerance regime. I still love New York, but it’s a different New York today. It’s still full of promise and possibility, but it’s a place that’s harder on failure than it ever was. Its citizens are never short of a witty retort, but the quality of me first ruthlessness they cloak themselves in for survival means compassion is rarely in ample supply.

In New York and Hart Island together, we have everything that is both great and challenging about both city and country. So while Hart Island provides a lens for me to explore the underbelly of the American dream, I come at the story as someone who instinctively respects the pursuit of that American dream.

In the characters we have assembled to tell our story, we have found strong and interesting individuals for whom fate and circumstance have combined to deal them a poor hand in life; in stories that resonate across poverty, race and the immigrant experience.

As our characters’ stories unfold ONE MILLION AMERICAN DREAMS becomes both an alternative history of perhaps the greatest city on earth and a snapshot of America in 2018.

In many ways, it is a  film about heartache and failure, the story of most of our lives. But it is carried by the actions and passions of brave, good-willed individuals who our audience will root for as they search for closure in the most difficult matters one can face – matters of life and death.

Grief is a powerful emotion. And when the circumstances surrounding a loved one’s death remains unresolved, the pain of that loss can often be overwhelming.

It is, therefore, all the more inspiring that our film’s central protagonists shine brightly with a refreshing vitality in what is ultimately a  film which celebrates life through the lens of death.

 
 
 
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IRISH PREMIERE

July 13th, Friday 2pm. Galway Film Fleadh, Town Hall Theatre.

 
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GALLERY

 

KEY PRODUCTION TEAM

 
 
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Brendan J Byrne

Director/Producer

Brendan is a veteran documentary filmmaker whose 2016 feature- documentary BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS, broke box office records in Ireland. His previous credits include his Royal Television Society winning documentary BREAKING THE SILENCE about families coping in the aftermath of suicide and MEN OF ARLINGTON which won the Critic’s Choice award at the Dublin International Film Festival in 2011. His first narrative feature film, JUMP was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 and his latest one MAZE, based on the true story of the 1983 Maze prison escape, had its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh in July 2017 and was the biggest Irish film at the box office in 2017. In a career spanning 25 years, Brendan ran production company Hotshot Films between 1992 and 2013 before joining Fine Point Films as Creative Director in 2014. Brendan is an Executive Producer on NO STONE UNTURNED, ELIÁN, GEORGE BEST: ALL BY HIMSELF and WAVE GOODBYE TO DINOSAURS and a producer on Fine Point’s Net ix Original documentary, MERCURY 13. As a director, he is also finishing a short documentary entitled HEAR MY VOICE, which explores the pain of human loss during conflict through internationally acclaimed artist Colin Davidson’s series of paintings, ‘Silent Testimony’. (The Gala Premiere of Hear My Voice was held on April 11th, 2018 and was introduced by US Senator George Mitchell, widely credited for his role in helping secure the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, an internationally recognised peace agreement that ended the conflict in Ireland).

 
 
 
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Trevor Birney

Producer

Award-winning producer, director, journalist and founder of Fine Point Films, Trevor Birney has a long track record in making high-end documentaries for international distribution. In 2012 he co-produced the Emmy award-winning, Alex Gibney feature-documentary, MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD, which also won an Irish Film & Television Award. In addition to producing Fine Point’s extensive production slate (NO STONE UNTURNED, directed by Alex Gibney, ELIÁN, directed by Ross McDonnell & Tim Golden, BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS, directed by Brendan J Byrne and GEORGE BEST: ALL BY HIMSELF, directed by Daniel Gordon) during his career Trevor has produced and directed a wealth of landmark documentaries about the conflict in Northern Ireland - for national and international broadcasters. In 2016, he directed a BBC documentary about the 1996 London Docklands bombing by the IRA, described by the Irish News as “a triumph of journalism”. In 2015, along with colleague Brendan J. Byrne, Trevor won the BEST PITCH prize at Hot Docs for a project subsequently commissioned by Netflix Originals. He is also the founder or television production company, Below The Radar and the multi-award-winning investigative journalism website, The Detail.

 
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Paul Devlin

Editor

Paul Devlin has been a documentary film editor since 1997 when he joined one of Ireland’s leading creative editing companies, Yellowmoon Post Production. In the course of those 18 years he has cut more than 60 films, many of which have been very, very challenging, but all of which are testament to Paul’s intellect and creativity. Some of these highlights include BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS, THE BEAUTY OF ANATOMY, BOMB SQUAD MEN: THE LONG WALK, CITY OF FAITH, SUPER 8 STORIES and BEST – MADE IN BELFAST. These works bear witness to Paul’s ability to the bring the light and shade of everyday life into his professional craft. In the words of his longtime colleague, Yellowmoon founder Greg Darby; ‘Paul is without a doubt one of the most intelligent people I have ever worked with, a man who clearly understands the alchemy of the cutting room, and who is, in my opinion, one of Ireland’s finest documentary editors.’

 
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Edith Progue

Composer

Lives & works in Paris. Bernard Swell, aka Edith Progue, has produced albums and written a string of top hit songs for French star Veronique Sanson, contributing to three platinum albums for Warner Brothers.

Three electro-pop albums, under the stage name of izdatso, released in 2000-2003 on Nettwerk America/ EMI have included tracks that were featured on CSI Miami TV series as well as Levi’s and LG advertisement campaigns.

In 2007, under the stage name Edith Progue, he composed, performed & produced “Timeline”. Released on the legendary Mille Plateaux label, Timeline has received the Best Electronic Album Award at the Qwartz Electronic Music Awards 4 (April 4th, 2008).

Working with world-famous DJ Paul Ritch and teaming up with French artists collective Supernova Project has brought Edith Progue’s music to a new level of minimal techno influenced sound, leading to live performances such as the concert featured on the “Live at Eglise St Merri” album (Editions Swellito 2015).

Film music: Eating Out by American director Alan Brocka (2004), Rose, c’est Paris by Bettina Rheims (2010), Calvet (2011) by UK director Dominic Allan, Jump (2012) by Irish director Kieron J. Walsh, and Bobby Sands: 66 Days (2016) by Irish director Brendan J. Byrne.

Edith Progue’s music is featured on art videos for fashion designers Christopher Kane, Alexander Wang & Karl Lagerfeld.

 
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Peter Strain

Animation

Peter Strain is an AOI (Association of Illustrators) Critics’ Choice Award-winning illustrator based in Belfast. He specialises in creating carefully composed, hand-rendered typography, animation, and illustration. Peter always tries to experiment with texture, mark- making and various digital techniques to keep his work evolving. Clients include FILM4, Empire, The Guardian, Penguin, The New Yorker, TIME magazine, The Washington Post and Adidas.

 
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Sam Rockwell

Narration

Sam Rockwell (born November 5, 1968) is an American actor. He is best known for his leading roles in Lawn Dogs (1997), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Matchstick Men (2003), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Moon (2009), G-Force (2009), and Seven Psychopaths (2012).

He is also well known for his supporting roles in The Green Mile (1999), Galaxy Quest (1999), Charlie’s Angels (2000), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Frost/Nixon (2008), Conviction (2010), Iron Man 2 (2010), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), and The Way, Way Back (2013). For his role as a troubled police deputy in the drama film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), Rockwell won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as well as numerous other accolades, including a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

 
 

Key Contributors

 
 
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HILDA REY FERRER

Hilda spent most of her life growing up in Cuba without her Dad, Ciro Ferrer, who as a Cuban exile, made his way to New York in the early 1980’s to provide for his family. Though he was never to return, contact with family was very regular until 2 years before his death in 2015. Here, we tell the story of how Hilda and her family find out news of his death from New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein as part of an investigation for the paper in 2016, before we follow Hilda on her own personal journey to visit her father’s grave in a foreign land.

 
 
 
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KATRINA DE JESUS

Katrina is a young mother from the Bronx who ran out of time to give her third child a proper burial when he died at birth, despite repeated efforts to raise the money. 12 years after his death, we follow Katrina’s heartbreaking journey as she searches for truth and the final resting place of her baby. 

 
 
 
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HERBERT SWEAT

Herbert was a 18 year old returning Vietnam veteran when he arrived home to find out his twin daughter died at birth and was buried on Hart Island. He also discovered that many soldiers of colour during the Civil war were also buried on Hart Island. 50 years after her death, Herbert finally reconciles himself to how his daughter ended up in a pauper’s cemetery whilst simultaneously campaigning to memorialise the forgotten soldiers of the Civil War.

 
 
 
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KIMBERLY HANSON BRADSHAW

Kimberly is a 33 year old dental nurse, who saw her father only once more after he went out of her life when she was nine years old, whose alcoholism and mental illness led to a Hart Island burial in 2013. Here, alongside her mother Donna Hanson, they piece together the pain and loss of a broken home and the unbelievable story of how a husband and father ended up in New York’s potter’s field.

 
 
 
 

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